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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

CHAPTEH XIXETEEtf

AN IRISH TRAGEDY

Hamilton

WILLIAM KOWAN HAMILTON is by long odds the greatest
man of science that Ireland has produced. His nationality is
emphasized because one of the driving impulses behind Hamil-
ton's incessant activity was his avowed desire to put his superb
genius to such uses as would bring glory to his native land.
Some have claimed that he was of Scotch descent. Hamilton
himself insisted that he was Irish, and it is certainly difficult for
a Scot to see anything Scotch in Ireland's greatest and most
eloquent mathematician.
Hamilton's father was a solicitor in Dublin, Ireland, where
William, the youngest of three brothers and one sister, was born
on 3 August 1805.* The father was a first-rate business man
with an 'exuberant eloquence', a religious zealot, and last, but
unfortunately not least, a very convivial man, all of which
traits he passed on to his gifted son. Hamilton's extraordinary
intellectual brilliance was probably inherited from his mother
Sarah Hutton, who came of a family well known for its brains.
However, on the father's side, the swirling clouds of elo-
quence, 'both of lips and pen', which made the jolly toper the
life of every party he graced with his reeling presence, con-
densed into something less gaseous in William's uncle, the
Reverend Jaines Hamilton, cuiate of the village of Trim (about
twenty miles from Dublin), Uncle James was in fact an inhu-
manly accomplished linguist - Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Sanskrit,
Chaldee, Pali, and heaven knows what other heathen dialects,
* The date on his tombstone is 4 August, 1805. Actually he was
born at midnight; hence the confusion in dates. Hamilton, who had
a passion for accuracy in such trifles, chose 3 August until in later
life he shifted to 4 August for sentimental reasons.
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